Peacemaking and war-making are entirely different activities. On the other hand, during the transition from peace to war or vice-versa, there are activities that don’t fit the rest of the prevailing situation. Often this is a deliberate policy, maintained against strong opposing pressures, as a matter of conviction or strong intent. For example, the Christian Peacemaker Teams try to function in Iraq as if challenging the reality or inevitability of war – a risky attitude to take, as we have seen in the case of the CPT hostages of Baghdad that ended only recently. Equally, there can be deliberate war-making in situations of peace, as when hatemongers deliberately go around trying to instigate conflicts. A war correspondent friend of mine claims that civil wars are always started deliberately by traveling emissaries of trouble who have reasons of their own for wanting to stir up civil strife. As a preventive measure, my friend David Last, a peacekeeping officer and trainer in the Canadian Forces, promotes efforts to bring local groups together for cooperative plans to impede the effectiveness of these traveling war-makers. He did so with occasional effectiveness in Bosnia, though a lot more could certainly be done to strengthen civilian groups in their building of community “fire walls” to protect zones of peace.
Thre are two antithetical approaches to peacekeeping: first, the military defence of vulnerable citizens against up-and-coming warlords and insurgents, and, second, the resolution of conflicts between antagonistic groups in a population where violence may otherwise occur. Everyone realizes that these two approaches can be combined only with great difficulty, and yet there is often a case to be made in favor of both methods. Take Afghanistan, for example. The classical peacenik will point out that poverty, combined with a history of experienced human rights violations and affronts to the dignity of Islam, are major sources of ongoing violence. For every insurgent killed, ten new ones can be recruited. New violence cannot put an end to the conditions that generate war; only social assistance, coupled with concerted programs of conflict resolution, can reduce those tensions and ultimately establish a stable democratic government. Accordingly, there are many international NGOs in Afghanistan, providing education, health care, social relief to widows with children, and rebuilding the infrastructure.
Yet Canadian troops also are in Afghanistan now, fully authorized by the United Nations to protect citizens against the attacks of warlords and to enable the elected Afghan government to function. Canada has been one of the main countries promoting the new doctrine, “Responsibility to Protect,” which morally obliges nations to intervene abroad militarily whenever necessary to protect vulnerable populations. So far, the Canadian troops, mainly based in Kandahar, have carried out security functions as a police force, without pursuing the warlords to punish them for their attacks on the people. Nevertheless, the warlords regard the Canadian soldiers as fair game and are killing an increasing number of them.
It seems that Canada, having take certain irreversible actions in Afghanistan, is morally obliged to remained engaged in that country until its problems are solved. Both approaches – protecting security, and alleviating suffering and humiliation — are required for the creation of genuine peace in that country. Yet any mixing of these functions is perilous. Most NGOs are particularly worried about the dangers of doing so. Doctors Without Borders, for example, adamantly insists on keeping a wide distance from the military, if only for their own safety, which has been compromised during the past decade. Previously, humanitarian workers were generally able to move about in a war zone because everyone recognized that they would assist partisans of all sides according to their need, not their political commitments. In recent years, however, foreign humanitarian workers have been killed because they are perceived as connected to military units that are clearly defending one conflict group against its opponents.
For their part, the military have sometimes tried to appropriate some of the respect that humanitarian workers have earned. Thus a soldier may drive up to a house in Afghanistan, carrying a box of groceries, hand it to the surprised housewife, and drive away. The next day, a real relief worker may come to the area and get shot, since the local people no longer can tell who is offering genuine assistance and who is attempting to buy off opposition to a military operation. Soldiers who resemble aid workers only jeopardize the hard-won respect accorded to the latter.
In the spring issue of Ploughshares Monitor, Ernie Regehr offers a policy for Canadians working in Afghanistan. He recognizes both approaches to peacekeeping as necessary – an opinion that most Canadians probably share. Yet there are unresolved dilemmas in his recommendations — problems that do not lend themselves to ready resolution. Regehr clearly wants to curtail any “war-fighting” operations on the part of the Canadian Forces, limiting their activities to protective “policing” functions, creating an expanding zone of stability that will enable the Karzai government to become more effective and thereby win the loyalty of the whole populace. This refusal to retaliate, even when treated as a combatant enemy unit, is a remarkable challenge for military personnel to sustain. The rules of engagement in any war situation almost always allow soldiers to fire in self-defense, even when they are not supposed to take sides in a civil war. However, the policy, however precarious, is an admirable one.
Regehr does not, however, distinguish clearly between the humanitarian, conflict-resolution program that he regards as central to the real peacebuilding operation, and the protective military program. In reality, the two operations need to be kept distinct and carried out by different personnel. The peacebuilders should be unarmed civilians, while the security work should be carried out by uniformed and lightly-armed military personnel. Regehr may actually agree with my opinion on this matter, but his article did not say so. It needs to be made explicit. Even though the Canadian taxpayer may be footing both bills, the invoices — and especially the personnel — should be kept entirely distinct. Moreover, if there is an expansion of these functions, the main room for growth is in the area of peacebuilding, not military operations. There is a great need for brave civilian peaceworkers who will actively reach out to the insurgent groups, listening to their grievances and seeking ways of reducing hostilities. Whether or not these conversations are constituted as formal “peace negotiations” or only as private, furtive consultations, they can provide the only real basis for new levels of harmony within Afghan society.